In the SF Bay Area, sometimes the only clear signal that the season is changing is the arrival of new fruits and vegetables in the market. Sweet summer produce such as corn and stone fruits are replaced by root vegetables and big squashes such as bright orange pumpkins—as if nature is preparing us for autumn’s cooler temperatures and reduced daylight by offering vegetables with an abundance of vitamin A for eyesight, and the nutrients and fiber needed to support the immune system.
Pumpkins have a history as an edible fruit in many ancient cultures. They are native to Central America and Mexico, but have spread all over the world. Pumpkins come in all different colors and sizes. The familiar color is orange, but some varieties of pumpkin are even green, white, or even pale blue! While we associate pumpkins with massive sizes, (the current record holder for the biggest pumpkin weighed almost a ton!) there are some tiny varieties too.
Perhaps due to their large and colorful appearance, pumpkins have been woven into fairy tales of almost every continent. In fact there is even a variety known as the fairy tale pumpkin.
In the United States, pumpkins are used as carved decorations for Halloween, but these pumpkins are not ideal to cook with. For soup, pies, bread, or a stew the sugar pie pumpkin works best. It is less stringy than larger varieties and its meat is sweet and fine grained. For a soup recipe, select a medium-sized pie pumpkin with a bright orange skin that weighs about 2 to 3 pounds.
In addition to being easy and gratifying to cultivate, pumpkin is also very nutritious. It is low in fat and sodium and high in other important nutrients.
Pumpkins are easy to cook. They can be either baked or steamed. To bake, preheat the oven to 350°. Cut the pumpkin lengthwise into two halves. Using a spoon, remove the seeds and strings. (Seeds can be saved, roasted, and served as a healthy snack.) Oil the surfaces inside and outside the pumpkin and set the halves on a baking sheet with the cut side down. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the meat is soft when a fork is inserted, but still firm enough to be cut into chunks.
To steam, cut the pumpkin in half lengthwise and remove seeds and strings. Steam the two halves in a steamer for about 20 minutes. Cook them just enough to loosen the skin while keeping the flesh firm and intact. Cool, peel, and cut into chunks.
Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine, lives in San Francisco, where she is a manager and co-owner of Other Avenues, a health-food store.
Gujarati Kadhi with Pumpkin
Some food historians believe that the word “curry” came from a British mispronunciation of the name of a yogurt soup called kadhi. In Gujarat in northwestern India, kadhi is considered a comfort food. It can clear the sinuses and relieve other symptoms of the common cold. It is easy to digest and can lift your spirits when you are feeling down. Kadhi is a simple, light soup with a sauce-like consistency that is made with lots of water, some yogurt or coconut milk, and a bit of garbanzo flour. Other ingredients such as peanuts, green beans, okra, yams, or pumpkin can be added to embellish the soup.
2 cups cooked pumpkin, cut into
6 to 7 cups water
1 ½ to 2 cups plain low-fat yogurt
3 tablespoons besan (garbanzo flour)
¼ teaspoon each turmeric and
2 cloves of minced garlic mixed
with ¼ teaspoon cayenne powder
and made into a paste using a rolling pin or a mortar and pestle
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon mild cooking oil such as
corn oil, safflower oil, canola oil, or
¼ teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
teaspoon cumin seeds
2 to 3 whole red chilies
A large pinch of asafetida
A few fresh curry leaves and/or 1 table spoon of chopped cilantro
Whisk together water, yogurt, garbanzo flour, powdered spices, and salt until smooth. Add the garlic/cayenne paste. Bring the mixture to a boil in a pot, then turn the heat down. Cook for 15 minutes stirring constantly until the soup has a creamy texture. Add the pumpkin and continue to cook for a few minutes.
For the final step, in a separate small pot, heat the oil and then add the mustard and cumin seeds. After the seeds start to pop, add the chilies and the asafetida. Stir, and then add this smoking mixture to the pot of kadhi. Cover immediately, and keep it covered for five minutes.
Taste, correct for saltiness, and top with fresh curry leaves and/or cilantro. Serve hot with rice and/or bread. Instruct the diners to remove the whole chilies and curry leaves, or you can take them out as you are serving.
Thai Pumpkin Soup with Coconut Milk
Thai food can be very similar to Indian food in flavor. This recipe was modified with a memory of a soup I had in South India and by mixing a few Thai recipes until I came up with a version which is especially quick to prepare. If you are using canned pumpkin or previously prepared steamed or baked pumpkin, it can be ready in 25 minutes!
2 cups freshly made pumpkin puree
or 1 15 oz can of puree
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, any type
2 cups water
2 cups or one 15 oz can of coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt
1-2 tablespoons of prepared Thai
red curry paste (found in specialty
or health food stores)
or prepare your own curry paste
with the following ingredients
Thai red curry paste
1 or 2 red dry chilies or 1 teaspoon
1 stalk of lemon grass chopped into
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
or white parts of green onion
3 cloves of chopped garlic
¼ teaspoon chopped lime peel (skin)
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon cilantro leaves with
1 teaspoon each powdered
coriander and powdered cumin
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
To prepare the Thai curry paste, place all the above ingredients in the jar of a food processor or a blender and puree into a coarse paste. Store in a glass jar. For this recipe you will need only half of the amount you have made. The remainder can be saved in the refrigerator for upto a week.
Heat the vegetable oil in a pot and add 3 tablespoons of the Thai curry paste you have prepared. (Store-bought paste is denser so you may need less.) Stir-fry for 2 minutes, and add the water. Bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove any rough fibers of the homemade paste that rise to the surface.
Lower the heat and add the coconut milk. Cook over a moderate heat for five minutes, stirring constantly. Add the salt and pumpkin puree. Lower the heat again and continue to cook for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently until the soup thickens to a cream-like consistency. Adjust seasoning, adding more paste if desired. Serve with bread and/or rice.
First printed in October 2011. Original Title – A Sure Sign of Autumn